Edgar Lee Masters

(23 August 1868 – 5 March 1950 / Kansas / United States)


Poem by Edgar Lee Masters

I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,
And the silence of a man and a maid,
And the silence of the sick
When their eyes roam about the room.
And I ask: For the depths,
Of what use is language?
A beast of the field moans a few times
When death takes its young.
And we are voiceless in the presence of realities --
We cannot speak.

A curious boy asks an old soldier
Sitting in front of the grocery store,
"How did you lose your leg?"
And the old soldier is struck with silence,
Or his mind flies away
Because he cannot concentrate it on Gettysburg.
It comes back jocosely
And he says, "A bear bit it off."
And the boy wonders, while the old soldier
Dumbly, feebly lives over
The flashes of guns, the thunder of cannon,
The shrieks of the slain,
And himself lying on the ground,
And the hospital surgeons, the knives,
And the long days in bed.
But if he could describe it all
He would be an artist.
But if he were an artist there would be deeper wounds
Which he could not describe.

There is the silence of a great hatred,
And the silence of a great love,
And the silence of an embittered friendship.
There is the silence of a spiritual crisis,
Through which your soul, exquisitely tortured,
Comes with visions not to be uttered
Into a realm of higher life.
There is the silence of defeat.
There is the silence of those unjustly punished;
And the silence of the dying whose hand
Suddenly grips yours.
There is the silence between father and son,
When the father cannot explain his life,
Even though he be misunderstood for it.

There is the silence that comes between husband and wife.
There is the silence of those who have failed;
And the vast silence that covers
Broken nations and vanquished leaders.
There is the silence of Lincoln,
Thinking of the poverty of his youth.
And the silence of Napoleon
After Waterloo.
And the silence of Jeanne d'Arc
Saying amid the flames, "Blessed Jesus" --
Revealing in two words all sorrows, all hope.
And there is the silence of age,
Too full of wisdom for the tongue to utter it
In words intelligible to those who have not lived
The great range of life.

And there is the silence of the dead.
If we who are in life cannot speak
Of profound experiences,
Why do you marvel that the dead
Do not tell you of death?
Their silence shall be interpreted
As we approach them.

Comments about Silence by Edgar Lee Masters

  • Paresh ChakraParesh Chakra (12/1/2018 10:53:00 AM)

    This poem is very thoughtful poem(Report)Reply

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  • MIZZY............. (3/15/2018 10:26:00 AM)

    I LOVE THIS POEM! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
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  • Damian CranneyDamian Cranney (6/19/2017 1:14:00 AM)

    What a great poem, about life, a true understanding of the human condition and the events of time, I think this poem has made me understand and about writing free verse no rhyme just wisdom.(Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
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  • Sally Plumb Plumb (4/4/2016 3:28:00 AM)


    7 person liked.
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  • Christopher CorreiaChristopher Correia (3/24/2016 12:50:00 AM)

    amen! is all that comes to mind after reading this profound thought....what a great observational thought stream captured by a very bright man, and excellent poet....a tribute to the limitless possibilities of words, searing silence....profound beyond description...joy to read(Report)Reply

    4 person liked.
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  • Kenneth MaswabiKenneth Maswabi (3/2/2015 3:33:00 AM)

    Wow! i am touched by the silence.Thank you.(Report)Reply

    5 person liked.
    4 person did not like.
  • Obed Souza (4/6/2009 8:24:00 PM)

    I Just love it! Silence can be so revealing and expresses so many things!(Report)Reply

    5 person liked.
    5 person did not like.
  • Carla Detrie (10/12/2007 12:23:00 PM)

    I read this poem in high school - quite some time ago - and it has always been with me. A beautiful poem with so very much to say even today. A Classic.(Report)Reply

    8 person liked.
    5 person did not like.
  • Matthew Brown (11/15/2006 8:14:00 PM)

    I have spent an hour looking for this online. It first came to my attention in a very old volume of poetry but i could not remember when or where i had read it.The Poem, for me, goes far beyond anything i could describe and if Mr.Masters had not written anything else..this would have been good enough for me..thank you for being here for me PoemHunter.com...I am delighted with your service AND FREE! ! ! HOW GOOD.............. MATTHEW F BROWN(Report)Reply

    6 person liked.
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Read poems about / on: silence, soldier, poverty, father, husband, sick, city, death, son, hope, life, sea, star, lost

Poem Submitted: Saturday, January 4, 2003

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